Smashing Pumpkin (part 2)

Actual size. Thanks Ski. Sorry... Maclary.

First of all, I need to apologise that part 2 of this post has taken almost a week. I wouldn’t normally apologise for such things, but I’ve spent the last couple of days being nudged, bullied, harangued and shouted at in the street, with the general message being that people would like me to jolly well get on with it*.

So… back to the race…

I lied about the griffon.

As we moved off as one big lycra-ey mass, there was the inevitable few minutes of bunching. This is a frustrating time for any runner; adrenalin is coursing through your body, knocking over wheelie bins and shouting “Yeah! Race! Bring it on! Grrrrr”, but the rest of you is forced to adopt a pattern of

  1. Jog a bit
  2. Walk a bit
  3. Tread on stranger’s heels
  4. Walk a bit slower
  5. Get elbowed to within an inch of your life
  6. Repeat from step 1

I think the reason those speedy little Kenyans start at the front and then run off so quickly is primarily to avoid this sweaty mess. Gold medals and sponsorship deals are just an added bonus.

As the pack started to thin slightly, I encountered my first nemesis of the day. The problem with races over shorter distances is that you don’t get as many nemeses. With a 5k, for example, you’d struggle to get even one, and might even have to settle for a vague archenemy instead. But with a distance of 13.1 miles and hundreds if not thousands of fellow runners, there’s rich potential for a plethora of runners for me to build up an imaginary rivalry with. Of course, with running being (in my experience at least) such a friendly, inclusive sport, you have to be careful not to speak to these people as they invariably turn out to be brilliant individuals, which sort of spoils the illusion.

Anyway, nemesis number one. Now, I’m no stranger to being overtaken during a race. In fact, if I go for more than three minutes without being overtaken, I have to stop and just check that I’m not accidentally riding a powerful motorbike. But to be overtaken by someone walking his springer spaniel and wearing leather brogues and an anorak? That’s clearly the sign that someone has woken up in the morning, looked in the mirror and said to themselves “you know what? It’s a lovely day, I think I’ll go and wind Jay up for a bit”.

After Nemesis #1 had hounded me (get it?) for a while I managed to pick my way out of the pack I was in, and found myself enough space to trot along at a nice relaxed 9-10 minute/mile pace while I took in my surroundings and enjoyed the race atmosphere. I’d love to be one of those people who can write a race report and give a blow by blow account of each mile, but to be honest, to me the race was just one big happy blur with a medal at the end. But, since you’ve taken the time to click on this blog (and assuming you haven’t accidentally come here while looking for the completely unrelated “porntoblod”) I suppose I should at least attempt to sort of have a go at trying to have a stab at describing the race…

One of the high points for me was a couple of miles in, when the route bifurcated (Best. Word. Ever.) so that the 5k and 10k runners turned off to the right, while the Half-marathoners carried straight on. Although there was admittedly a moment where my treacherous legs toyed with the idea of staging a mutiny and veering onto the shorter route, I allowed myself a moment of happy reflection, thinking back to the pre-running Me of a year ago (and also the not-running-very-far Me of six months ago). Back then I never thought I’d ever be able to even attempt to run 13.1 miles. In fact back then, I didn’t really believe that anyone could run 13.1 miles, and assumed that it was all done with mirrors.

By around a quarter of the way in (3.275 miles, maths fans) I’d settled into a happy pace and was feeling strong. Not Geoff-Capes-bench-pressing-the-Krankies strong, but strong nonetheless. Although still in my rightful place nearer to the back of the group than the middle, I’d taken great delight in picking off a few crafty overtakes. This is one of those simple pleasures in a race; identifying a potential overtake and then picking up your pace to reel them in and close the gap makes you feel like some sort of master tactician (well, it does in my world), and then the exhilaration as you then step up a final gear to pass them is just the icing on the cake. Of course, this happy reverie then gives way to the pressure of having to maintain that quicker pace for a while, or face the ultimate shame of passing someone and then being forced to slow to a wheezing shamble. As I’ve said earlier, runners are generally lovely people, but even the most kind-hearted of sorts would find it hard not to shake their head and tut as they passed you after such an epic fail**.

Although I don’t always listen to music on my runs, I’d decided that today it might be just the ticket to keep me focussed and distract me from the fact that I was doing two laps of the same course – a concern I’ve previously moaned about on this blog. Today’s choice of music was one that had already brought a whole new level of joy to many long runs, and as such I feel it’s earned a quick plug here. It’s called “72” and it’s a 72-minute mash-up, expertly put together by members of gybo5.com. To say it’s eclectic doesn’t really do it justice, and it’s the perfect soundtrack to a run. Woven together like a big noisy tapestry, there’s dance, rock, rap, pop and a few less conventional choices, all bundled together and fighting for your attention. On paper, the thought of mixing Snooker Loopy with the Wu Tang Clan or Primal Scream with the Wurzels sounds odd, but somehow it works. Anyway, it’s worth a listen so direct your Google-o-tron 2000 towards the interweb and go to http://seventytwothree.yolasite.com (that’s the third instalment of 72. The first two are out there somewhere, but it’s late in the day and I need coffee). If you Google the wonderful “Eddie Pedalo” I’m sure you’ll get to them eventually.

As I neared the first water station I started to see more and more runners coming back towards me. I rightly assumed that they had reached the turnaround point of the first lap and were heading back towards the start of lap two, but in hindsight I suppose I should have at least considered the possibility that they had just turned back because they were being chased by something nasty, which would explain their speed. As far as I know, they weren’t being chased, but it’s always worth bearing in mind. As we crossed paths I shared a happy nod with some, and the occasional thumbs up with others.  A few lucky souls got both; a move I like to call “The Excelsior”. Others were in a world of their own, either focussed on the task in hand or daydreaming about cheese. I never asked them which. I’m reliably informed by someone who tried to pull their own Excelsior on me that I seemed to be in a world of my own too, and I apologise if my face said “stony ignorance” when the look I was actually going for was “exhausted simpleton”. Honestly – I was smiling on the inside, and your attempts at cheering me on were appreciated, even if it didn’t show.

To be honest, I have no idea what happened to miles four-to-eleven. I’ve got a reasonably good recollection of the miles either side, but those middle ones just seemed to fly by as if they were seven footsteps rather than seven miles. People often talk about “runners high”, and it’s something I’ve experienced a few times now. The popular opinion is that it’s just the result of the body being flooded with endorphins, and while there’s probably a lot of truth in that, it feels like there’s more to it. On top of that (or perhaps because of it) there’s a wondrous feeling that everything is working in perfect synchronicity; not just in terms of arms and legs, but also in a way that makes you more aware of your surroundings in every way. Of course, it’s usually at this point of a run that I catch a glimpse of my reflection somewhere, and the sight of my mechanical-wildebeest-on-a-slippery-escalator running  style brings me back to earth with a bump, all thoughts of Zen-like composure banished from my mind until the next time.

Speaking of being brought back down with a bump, mile eleven was where things started to get real. I’d been really pleased with my pace so far, and it was looking like my prediction of a 2:25 finish would only come true if I decided to moonwalk the remainder of the course. As it was, I was on target for a sub 2:15, which I’d been hoping for in the weeks building up to the race, but never actually thought I’d manage. But now my knees were starting to feel as if I’d run 11 miles on them (which I had, so that was okay) and I could feel myself slowing down as the final miles seemed to stretch and distort like a Salvador Dali painting, becoming longer and longer like a penguin might do if he found himself in said painting. As I came into the final mile I found myself being overtaken again and again by a couple of runners who kept slowing down to walk, letting me (gradually) overtake them, before speeding ahead and retaking their place ahead of me. This depressing ballet happened at least four or five times, by which point I was split between admiring their spirit and sense of determination, and wanting to push them in the lake. In the end the choice was made for me, as they found a final burst of energy and quickly vanished into the distance.

As I found myself in the final half mile, I was running neck and neck with a chap that I’d overtaken several miles back, but who had now stepped up his game and was now edging in front of me again. On the back of his vest was the legend “George 77+” which meant that either he was born in 1977 and had a VERY tough paper-round (and the printers were giving away free “+” signs, as they often do), or he was 77 years old. Or more accurately, he was 77 when he’d had the vest printed which could have been any number of years ago. I’ve talked about the Silver foxes in the last blog post, and George might as well have been their king – having perfected the art of sort of looking like he might be in his 70’s, but tempered with the vitality, vim and vigour of a 20 year old. As a 36 year-old wheezing away next to him, the best I could offer was vindaloo, vimto and very very tired. George also had a big yellow smiley-face sticker on the back of his running belt, which had played a big part in keeping me motivated through some of the earlier miles.

And then I saw the finish line. Well, I say “saw”. I actually heard it first, by which I mean I heard an excited four year-old screaming “COME ON DADDY!!!!!” at the top of her lungs. This spurred me on, partly because I knew from experience that where there are four year-olds there’s usually chocolate milkshake. I found the energy to step up a couple of gears and passed George on his left, giving him a thumbs up as I did. With his words of encouragement ringing in my ears I dashed towards the finish line, although witnesses may prefer the term “lurched”.

Once past the finish line I picked up my bling before turning to bask in my daughters adulation, which was carefully hidden among comments like “why were you so slow Daddy? Did you get lost” and “Why does everyone look so poorly?”

And that was it. My first ever Half Marathon. 13.1 miles in 2:13 and a few seconds. Not particularly quick, but I did it, and that’s enough for me.

For now.

*Not everyone was quite so polite. One voicemail message declared me a “Funky bar-snack and a complete and utter parcel”. I think. It was quite muffled.
And also, I made it up.

**I’m starting to feel my age these days, and had to look up “epic fail” in my hippety-hop dictionary to make sure I’d got it right and was still down with the kids. Do people still say “down with the kids”, or is that not awesomely radical any more?

At first glance it looks like I'm just starting. Now look at the expression on my face.

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12 thoughts on “Smashing Pumpkin (part 2)

  1. Really enjoyable read Jay. I hope you keep the bloggng up and we can continue to read your tales of your next adventure.
    I struggled a bit mentally with the run, the long sections with no interaction. It’s a bit of a cliche, but as you say, sometimes small things such as a bit of encouragement or the smiley runners belt really can make a difference and spur you on. You should try the Great North Run, the easiest run I’ve ever done (and the joint-longest too) as the atmosphere throughout is truly amazing, I’m sure you would enjoy it.

      • September, so you’ve missed it for this year, and probably next year as well as it’s a very popular ballot entry race (50,000 people and I got in first time, very lucky) but if running is going to be a long term thing you for then it’s definitely worth consideration in years to come.

  2. Well done on finishing the first half! I’ve always avoided multi lap races, as I just know my legs would over-rule my head and call it quits after lap one.
    See you at Silverstone (in a metaphorical way – they’ll be thousands there and I may not actually see you). Which, some would argue, is a 3 lap race, but isn’t, not in my book.

  3. Woo hoo what an excelent time well done I actually watched you finish I now realize 🙂 George that you mention is from my running club Bushfield joggers he is in fact 78 and I swear he has kryptonite for breakfast

    • I forgot to mention in the blog… The awesome thing about George was the fact that he cleared the finish line, and rather than collapsing in a sweaty heap like most people (i.e. Me) he instead turned around and legged it back up the course to go and run with one of his clubmates. If that doesn’t embody everything that’s great about running, I don’t know what does.

  4. Also I second the great north run the ballott entry usually opens dec/jan if you go to the website you can sign up for advance notice.

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